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Stepdad went to ‘play video games’ after ‘forced immersion’ of 4-year-old in 140-degree tub left child covered in third-degree burns

Joshua Tranair Meekings (Smith County Sheriff's Office and KLTV screenshot)

Joshua Tranair Meekings (Smith County Sheriff’s Office and KLTV screenshot)

A 27-year-old father in Texas will spend several decades behind bars after he admitted to severely burning his 4-year-old stepson by forcefully immersing the boy into a bathtub of near-boiling hot water, causing the child to suffer burns over more than one-third of his body. Smith County District Court Judge Taylor Heaton on Monday ordered Joshua Tranair Meekings to serve a sentence of 40 years in a state correctional facility for his actions, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

Prior to being sentenced, Meekings on Monday formally pleaded guilty to one count of injury to a child with intent to cause serious bodily injury in connection with the May 2022 incident. Meekings also pleaded to a sentencing enhancement based on previous convictions on charges of sexual assault and burglary of a habitation.

According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Nacogdoches, CBS and CW affiliate KYTX, the investigation into Meekings began when Child Protective Services on May 26, 2022, contacted the Smith County Sheriff’s Office regarding a 4-year-old boy who had been brought to a hospital in Dallas to treat severe burns.

A doctor reportedly told investigators that the child suffered burns over 33% to 36% of his body, which included the entirety of both of his legs, feet, and buttocks, as well as a portion of his right arm. The doctor also noted that most of the burns sustained by the child were third-degree burns that were likely the result of forceful immersion.

The victim’s mother spoke to investigators and said that when she arrived home from work on May 26, her son was wrapped in a towel that hid his injuries, according to a report from Tyler ABC affiliate KLTV. When she removed his towel and revealed the victim’s injuries, she immediately told Meekings to call 911 and the child was transported to the hospital.

In his initial discussions with authorities, Meekings blamed the victim, claiming the boy sustained the burns when he bumped into the stove, accidentally spilling a pot of hot water on himself.

However, the victim’s babysitter told authorities that while the mother was out, the boy had gone to the bathroom on himself, KYTX reported. The sitter reportedly told Meekings to clean the victim up, which is when he undressed the victim, ran a hot bath, and went into the bathroom with the child.

The babysitter said Meekings then left the boy in the tub and went to “play video games” in another room. When the child could not tolerate the hot water any longer, Meekings went back into the bathroom. The babysitter’s sister heard Meekings yelling at the boy inside the bathroom while the child whined, the babysitter told police.

But doctors told investigators that the victim’s injuries were likely the result of him being held down in the dangerously hot water by force, according to The Tyler Morning Telegraph.

The victim’s “burns were considered forced immersion with a light demarcation line due to the child’s resistance during the actual event,” the newspaper reported, citing an affidavit.

First responders on the scene using a thermometer reportedly said the sitting water in the tub measured 140 degrees when they arrived.

Following the incident, the victim was reportedly admitted to the hospital, intubated, and placed on a ventilator due to his injuries. Authorities said he required multiple surgeries and skin grafts due to the burns.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.